A four-year-old boy with autism had a meltdown on a United Airlines flight, so the crew showered him with affection.
Lori Gabriel’s son Braysen Keen has autism, is non-verbal and panics in overstimulating places such as airports and restaurants.
The Texas mum felt confident about an August family trip to San Diego, as Braysen had managed fairly well on a recent flight to Kentucky and this time, Ms Gabriel had the support of Braysen’s father and his parents.
On the way to the airport, Braysen had become cranky but his mum thought he would fall asleep on the flight.
“I didn’t think it would turn out this way,” she told Yahoo Lifestyle.
Before the three-and-a-half hour flight, the family was first to board, strapping Braysen into his seat and setting up his Kindle.
As the plane filled up with passengers, Braysen slipped out of the seatbelt and onto the floor and the family struggled to keep the little boy seated.
“He was screaming, hitting and kicking me, and pulling my hair, I thought, ‘Everyone must hate us,’” Ms Gabriel told Yahoo Lifestyle.
The flight crew allowed Braysen’s father to hold the boy on his lap for takeoff but when the seatbelt sign turned off, the boy slid onto the floor at his parents’ feet and inched toward the aisle.
Ms Gabriel told Yahoo Lifestyle the floor was Braysen’s comfort zone on that flight.
“He lay on his back kicking the floor, which he does to feel the vibrations on his feet,” she said.
Ms Gabriel was pleasantly surprised when Braysen accidentally kicked a woman but she just smiled and didn’t seem to mind.
The flight attendants also helped entertain Braysen. One drew a flower for him on a napkin and another entertained him with a puppet.
“Every few minutes they stopped by to check on us,” Ms Gabriel told Yahoo Lifestyle.
Understanding that Braysen needed space, the crew even allowed him to spread out in the aisle with his blanket and manoeuvred around him when serving beverages.
“I don’t ever expect anyone to work around my child,” said Ms Gabriel.
Ms Gabriel sat down on the floor and gave her son leg compression massages to stop the kicking but Breyson soon scooted over to the first-class section, where he kicked another passenger.
“The man said, ‘He can kick me the entire flight — I don’t care,’” recalls Ms Gabriel.
The passenger also chatted with her son and gave him high-fives while Braysen remained in first class, watching videos on a flight attendant’s cell phone.
When the plane descended, Braysen’s dad restricted him on his lap and before the family stood to leave, a flight attendant offered Ms Gabriel a hug.
As Ms Gabriel and her family waited on the jet bridge for their stroller, passengers waved goodbye to Braysen and the woman whose foot he had kicked, handed Ms Gabriel a note.
“I commend you for your strength,” the message read.
“Do not ever let anyone make you feel as though you are an inconvenience or a burden. He is a blessing. Continue to be superwoman. And know you and your family are loved and supported. —United family.”
After reading the note, Ms Gabriel turned and saw the woman slip on a United lanyard.
Later, Ms Gabriel wrote a Facebook post about the flight.
“...Huge thank you to United Airlines, they accommodated [Braysen’s] needs, made sure we were all OK, worked around where he choose to sit,” she wrote.
“To the lady that wrote me this note in seat 7D thank you, you may not know how much that means to us when we feel defeated,” she posted.
United Airlines told Yahoo Lifestyle that two of the crew members, including the off-duty employee Camille, have professional and personal experiences with autism.
The carrier also partners with the Special Olympics and offers training to assist passengers with intellectual disabilities.
“The note said it best,” a United Airlines spokesperson told Yahoo Lifestyle.
“On behalf of the United family, we want Lori and her family to know they are loved and supported. We are proud of our crew and all our employees for the kindness and care they show our customers every day and this is a beautiful example of the impact that can have.”
Ms Gabriel will remember those who displayed compassion toward her son.
“I wish I could tell them how much it meant, they touched our hearts,” she told Yahoo Lifestyle.
“We’ve never been treated with such kindness,” the mother added.
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